Magic of Mays often disheartened this Dodgers fan

I had planned to say a few words about the 920-page Project 2025 Presidential Transition Plan published by the Heritage Foundation. In all honesty, it was not an undertaking I was looking forward to since even a cursory glance made it clear that it was less a plan to improve the lives of any non-billionaire American and more like the ‘To-do’ list on Satan’s refrigerator.

My plans changed when I received a text from a friend saying that Willie Mays had died.

I remember where I was and what I was doing on the day I heard that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, and I think now I will always remember where I was when I heard baseball legend Willie Mays had died. Coming so soon on the heels of the deaths of Celtic Bill Walton and Laker Jerry West, the death of Mays was a particularly deep loss. Living in these times, which are already perilously short on actual heroes, it’s particularly sad to lose the man who was arguably the greatest baseball player of all time.

Like many geeky teenage boys of my generation afflicted with a shyness that made talking to actual girls all but impossible, I took refuge during my dateless school years in music and sports, and Mays occupied a prominent position in my small universe of personal heroes as he soared like a comet across the skies of popular culture.

But I wasn’t always a Willie Mays fan. I grew up in Los Angeles and was a diehard Dodger fan for years. I could tell you the starting lineup of every team in the National League and the batting average or ERA and win-loss record of every Dodger starter. I listened with particular attention to the radio when Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett were calling the Dodger games against the Giants, whether the games were played in the frigid arctic winds of Candlestick Park or in the glorious sunshine of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine.

Willie broke my heart more than once by hitting the winning home run for the Giants in the late innings or else taking away a sure run from the Dodgers with one of his iconic circus catches out in center field with his back to home plate and his cap flying off while my heart sank.

But even then, as much as I cursed him for his part in beating my beloved Dodgers, I knew there was something special about Mays, something that transcended being a baseball fan. Willie’s numbers speak for themselves. But he brought something besides his unrivaled baseball skills to the game. He brought an energy, a kind of magic. With Willie in the field or at bat anything could happen, and it usually did and whatever it was, it was never good for the Dodgers or their fans.

I am convinced that God puts people on earth like Willie Mays to remind us the level of skill, style and grace to which it is possible for some select few of us humans to rise. The world already feels like a slightly less joyful and magical place without Willie’s smile. But this too shall pass as time heals all wounds, life goes on, etc. The sting of Willie’s death will wear off and eventually be forgotten when our attention gets drawn to the next earthly disaster, such as say, Russia invading another country or Marjorie Taylor Green speaking in public.

In the meantime, and by way of contrast to the consummate athletic skills of Willie Mays, let me share with you a poem I wrote documenting my own considerable lack of skills in my favorite sport:

“I dribble the basketball off my foot,/ I pass it out of bounds,/I toss up another air ball,/While my knee makes clicking sounds.

I’ve maybe loss a step or three,/ Steps I never really had./ My rebounding is nonexistent –My defense merely bad.

But once a game I make a shot, Or steal a pass or two, And up in heaven my Father smiles/ As he laces up his shoes.”

Tom Tyner of Bainbridge Island writes a weekly column for this newspaper.